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Adjective order in English


Putting adjectives in the right order in English

It's as easy as ABC

How is it that native English speakers naturally place adjectives (and secondary nouns acting as adjectives) in the "correct" order when writing or speaking ? Very few native English speakers have ever learnt, or even thought of, the rules that determine the order in which adjectives are placed.
     This obviously means that the rules are a) very basic and intuitive, and b) very few in number. More than rules, they are principles.

Adjectives are placed in English according to their nature or type. There are three groups of adjectives, defining the qualities of a noun :  
A. Articles & accessories, relative or perceived circumstantial qualities.
  At the start of group A come Articles and determiners
 B. Basic, permanent but circumstantial qualities
C. Classifying adjectives, innate or fundamental permanent qualities

And of course, they will be placed in the natural order ABC, with the most fundamental adjectives coming closest to the noun, i.e. last.  Each group contains different types of adjectives, which may (or may not) require a specific sequence.

Adjective order in English

Group A Group B Group C Noun
Articles and accessories Basic Classifying
Article or determiner
  >  Perceived quality,
      > Size, weight, age
       etc
Colour
   > Nationality
         > Gender
(sometimes gender before nationality)
Permanent quality
   > substance
(often a secondary noun)
An attractive ancient British copper necklace
My first big green rubber ball
His five old American cousins.
British female voters
Magnificent old American Ford automobile.
Memorable French skiing holiday
Dangerous and useless chemical experiment
Nice fresh red Spanish tomatoes



Important ! It is common to find two or three adjectives before a noun, but it is very rare indeed to find more than four adjectives at a time. Memorise the first example which clearly (and literally)  illustrates the ABC rule.

 When two group A adjectives of similar nature qualify the same noun, they may be linked by and. However and is never required to link adjectives from different groups.

 You can learn more about linking two adjectives with the word and in the Descriptive Grammar of English ebook or paperback.


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L'ordre des adjectifs en anglais

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